In an annual report published on Tuesday, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said India should join the ranks of ‘countries of particular concern’ that would be subject to sanctions if they do not improve their records. The bipartisan panel recommends but does not set policy, and there is virtually no chance the State Department will follow its lead on India. It called on the US to impose punitive measures, including visa bans on Indian officials believed responsible, and grant funding to civil society groups that monitor hate speech. This could be the reason that the White House has unfollowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind and the Prime Minister’s office.
It has also unfollowed the Twitter handle of the Indian Embassy in USA. Three weeks ago, PM Modi became the only world leader followed by the official Twitter handle of the US administration.
The commission said: “Modi’s Hindu nationalist government, which won a convincing election victory last year, allowed violence against minorities, and their houses of worship to continue with impunity, and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence”. It pointed to comments by Home Minister Amit Shah, who notoriously referred to mostly Muslim migrants as termites, and to a citizenship law that triggered nationwide protests. It also highlighted the revocation of the autonomy of Kashmir, which was India’s only Muslim-majority state, and allegations that Delhi police turned a blind eye to mobs that attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in February this year. The Indian government, which has long been irritated by the commission’s comments, quickly rejected the report. “Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.
Tony Perkins, the commission’s chair, called the law a “tipping point” and voiced concern about a registry in the northeastern state of Assam, under which 1.9 million people failed to produce documentation to prove that they were Indian citizens before 1971, when mostly Muslim migrants flowed in. what he said during Bangladesh’s bloody war of independence. “You could potentially have 100 million people, mostly Muslims, left stateless because of their religion. That would be, obviously, an international issue,” said Perkins, a conservative Christian activist who is close to President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump had hailed Modi and himself called for a ban on all Muslim immigration to the US when he campaigned for the slot of president. But for the first time in years, India has been facing substantial criticism in the US Congress, and there is a possibility that India is losing its clout in the Congress.
With the abolition of Article 370 of the Constitution, 10 states other than Jammu and Kashmir which enjoy special category status have started distrusting the Indian government, say political analysts. These are Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura and Uttarakhand. Arvind Kumar, assistant professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Jamia Millia Islamia, had said: “This (abrogation) might serve as a template for other special category states. Neera Chandhoke, a former professor of political science at Delhi University, had said: “This might set a precedent but Kashmir has been a priority for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Never before, a state has been downgraded. You don’t do this in a democracy. You don’t go to war against your own people. One can’t have a military solution to a political situation”.
Special category status was granted in the past by the National Development Council on the recommendations of the Planning Commission to states that needed special consideration. The features include: (i) hilly and difficult terrain; (ii) low population density and/or a sizeable tribal population; (iii) strategic location; (iv) economic backwardness; and (v) non-viable nature of state finances. “This is a good decision and I support it. This will promote unity and integrity in the country; but then what will happen to states like Sikkim?”, said Hishey Lachungpa, member of Parliament from the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) party. However, abolishing Article 370 has been part of election manifesto on the BJP’s agenda for long. “We are committed to overcome all obstacles that come in the way of development and provide adequate financial resources to all the regions of the state”.